Current format[ edit ] The league season as of —18 takes place between September and May, with teams split into two conferences; each consisting of two Irish and Welsh teams and one team each from Italy, Scotland and South Africa to make a seven team conference.
Each year the teams will be allocated to conferences based on their previous year's final positioning — in terms of Ireland and Wales, the top club from their respective nation will be placed in the same conference as the bottom club from their respective nation.
Teams will play each of the other teams in their conference twice home and away and each team from the opposite conference once either home or away. In addition, each team plays two further derby fixtures against teams from the same nation, but in the opposite conference.
This will ensure that Ireland and Wales retain their six derby matches for each team they held before. For Italy, Scotland and South Africa, their respective clubs will play their own nations side three times, with the home venue for the third fixture alternating each season between each club.
This creates a twenty one match regular season before the play-offs. The play-offs will be made up of the top three teams from each conference, with the conference winners gaining a direct bye to the semi-finals, which they will host.
The second and third placed teams from each conference will advance to the quarter-finals, with each of the second placed team hosted the game against the third placed team from the opposite conference.
The final will be held in a pre-arranged venue. League points are awarded using the Rugby union bonus points system ; 4 points for a win and 2 for a draw.
Bonus points can be earned so long as teams can either score four or more tries in a game and or lose by seven points or less — should a team do both, two bonus points are gained.
As for European qualification, the South African teams are ineligible at this time for European Competition. However seven places remain for teams competing in the competition, despite the change of format. The top three teams in each conference, excluding the South African teams if necessary, will gain qualification into the Champions Cup.
The fourth placed teams in each conference will take part in a play-off for the seventh place in the Champions Cup. With one less regular season fixture than in the Pro12, but with an extra round of play-offs, the season remains at 24 matchweeks and thus can still be scheduled to same time period as previous models of the competition.
Clashes between league matches and international weekends in November and during the Six Nations Championship remain.
Due to the travelling distance between Europe and South Africa, home South African games will always be played on a Saturday, allowing visiting teams to have a seven-day turnaround between fixtures and includes five 'clean days' that do not involve any travel.
Should the draw see European teams play both South African teams away, the schedule will see the away team play the two matches back-to-back across two weeks, acting as a 'mini-tour'. Format history[ edit ] The league has used a play-off structure since the —10 season to determine the champions, similar to that used in the English Premiership.
Starting from the —04 season until the —09 season, the champions were determined from league performance, with all the teams in one league. From the —18 season, the regular season will employ a conference structure rather than a single round robin league, with 'derby games' between teams from the same nation being protected, and an expanded playoff structure.
This allows the competition to control the calendar, and control the number of games per team.
League points are awarded using the Rugby union bonus points system. Until and including the —09 season, the champions were decided solely on the basis of who finished top of the league table, but since the —10 season, the league champion has been decided by a play-off series, in line with other rugby club competitions such as Super Rugby , Top 14 , and the English Premiership : at the conclusion of the regular season, the top four placed teams enter the semi-final stage, with the winner of the first vs fourth and second vs third play-offs entering the final known as the "grand final" in and Two Italian teams — the former National Championship of Excellence team Benetton Treviso , and a new team, Aironi — joined the league starting with the —11 season.
Aironi was replaced by Zebre from the —13 season. Through the —13 season, the Welsh, Irish, Scottish and Italian rugby unions used the league as the sole determinant for Heineken Cup qualification, and from —14 they use it as the sole means of qualification for the successor to the Heineken Cup, the European Rugby Champions Cup.